A long road

While in the desert this weekend I stopped to hike across the heart of a dead volcano. The place is a moonscape, with craggy, razor sharp igneous extrusions of molten lava frozen in time like froth atop a Starbucks latte. There’s no visible plant life here and the only animals are possibly millions of Black Widow spiders which inhabit the volcano’s countless nooks and crannies like tenants in a condo of venomous killers. While looking out on this scene I remembered a comment I’d once heard referring to how well our species had done given we’d started out with just sticks and rocks. I pulled my smartphone from my pocket and looked at it against the background of the volcano and thought with awe how we’d derived one from the other. The smartphone was made from no less than the compounds we’d found around us on and under the ground in landscapes like this. Then I looked at my hand…and realized how much longer the journey had really been. One of the first hominid tool makers was Homo habilis (handy man) who began making stone tools roughly two million years ago, yet the hands which made the tool were formed of a much longer, more gradual process beginning roughly four billion years earlier. It’s true, the smartphone began with sticks and rocks but so too the biology which had to arise as a precursor to even the most primitive technology. I put my phone atop the surface of the dead black volcano and considered the long chain of events which led from one to the other…and then my mind tittered and leapt in wonder at where the road of progress and change may yet lead.

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